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Emerging Brands

Wetzel’s Pretzels founder, Blaze Pizza investor has a new growth vehicle

Bill Phelps is now the CEO of Dave’s Hot Chicken, a growing fast casual selling spicy chicken tenders and sliders.
Photographs courtesy of Dave's Chicken

Bill Phelps, the co-founder of Wetzel’s Pretzels and one of the first investors in Blaze Pizza, is growing a new concept—a fast casual selling spicy chicken tenders that’s already got the backing of some deep-pocketed investors.

Phelps, who left the top spot at 350-unit Wetzel’s early this year, is now the CEO of Southern California-based fast casual Dave’s Hot Chicken, which is slated to open its second unit Friday in North Hollywood. Two more leases are signed, with a Dave’s location scheduled to open in December in LA’s Koreatown neighborhood and another in LA’s Fairfax area planned for March 2020.

The original investment group behind Blaze Pizza and Wetzel’s, including Phelps, TV personality Maria Shriver and film producer John Davis, is now backing Dave’s. Also investing in the concept are actor Samuel L. Jackson and TV host and former NFL player Michael Strahan.

The restaurant, which was founded as a pop-up in a parking lot by chef Dave Kopushyan (who trained with Thomas Keller) and several friends, specializes in hot chicken tenders and sliders, offered in seven spice levels from No Heat to Reaper (the latter requiring a signed waiver prior to consumption). It also serves sides such as kale slaw, mac and cheese and fries. 

Dave’s Hot Chicken operated for six months as a pop-up before opening its first brick-and-mortar unit in January 2018. The brand is licensed to franchise in most of the country, according to a press release.

“Dave’s specializes in tenders only, whereas most hot chicken concepts focus on all cuts of chicken,” Phelps said in an email to Restaurant Business. “We have come up with a proprietary brining process to make our tenders incredibly juicy and delicious. Our unique spice blends were carefully crafted by our classically trained chef.”

Units range from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet. Beer is also served. Delivery will be offered, Phelps said.

“This product travels extremely well and we expect delivery will be a big part of the business,” he said.

Consumer demand for fried chicken is practically at a fever pitch, as witnessed by the frenzy for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s limited-time chicken sandwich earlier this month, which caused the chain to run out of supplies after eight days.

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